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Wordless Picture Books Speak Volumes

To support young children as they develop into strong, passionate readers and writers, we surround them with print. From alphabet cards, sight word stickers, word walls, and vocabulary charts to books, books, books — our scholars are completely immersed in text. So it may surprise you that one of our most powerful tools doesn’t include any text at all!

What Are Wordless Picture Books?

Wordless picture books tell their story primarily through illustrations rather than text. In books like Barbara Lehman’s Trainstop, Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse, and Chris Raschka’s A Ball for Daisy, pictures do not merely support or add to the story – they are the story.

It’s tempting to think that wordless picture books are simpler than books containing text. After all, they’re “just pictures,” right? But, in fact, wordless picture books often boast rich, complex storylines, conveyed through sophisticated art. And, in fact, these books offer limitless numbers and varieties of words — the reader just needs to make them up. Wordless picture books assign the job of storyteller to the reader.

Lion and the Mouse Interior


Wordless Picture Books in Action

Even before kids can read, wordless picture books help them develop an intuitive understanding of how books and stories work. Kids take a giant step toward becoming writers when they tell stories based solely on illustrations. With prompting from a grownup, they can describe what the characters are doing, explain what the characters are thinking and feeling, put words in the characters’ mouths (using different voices for different characters), and use descriptive language to fill in details. They are developing many skills that will help them grow into strong readers and writers — all while getting lost in captivating pictures!

The Magic of Wordless Picture Books

In the early elementary grades, kids listen to, understand, and discuss read alouds that are far more complex than the books they can read on their own. If their decoding has not caught up to their thinking, some early readers can find independent reading boring. Struggling readers often work so hard to decipher print that they fall out of the story—they have trouble understanding and enjoying what they are reading. Wordless picture books bridge that gap; they provide sophisticated independent reading that kids can comprehend entirely on their own.

Because they have told the story entirely on their own, kids feel an extra sense of ownership over and affinity for wordless picture books. Plus, wordless picture books are often among the most beautiful books one can find.

Ball for Daisy Interior

Using Wordless Picture Books at Home

Below you will find a list of some of our favorite wordless picture books, though there are many more excellent options. Many authors listed have written multiple wordless picture books; make sure you check them out, too!

As you read wordless picture books with your child, be aware of the stages you may go through together:

  • First, pointing out what you see in the illustrations: “I see a lion, and there is a little mouse.”
  • Then, fine-tuning your observations: “In this picture, the lion is caught in a net, and the mouse is perched on the net, looking at the lion.”
  • Next, telling the story: “‘Oh no, what happened?!’ squeaked the mouse. The lion let out a low ‘Grrrr…’ He felt very foolish, but he was glad the mouse was there.”

Encourage your child to tell more and more of the story, asking questions and prompting your child to include details, characters’ feelings, and dialogue.

Wordless picture books are a magical part of our curriculum, and we encourage you to include them in your home library as well.

Wordless Picture Book List


Written by Sara Yu January 30, 2015

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